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Notes from Fan Appreciation Day

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The few things we learned from the one open practice session of the year

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Baylor
Barnes is clearly #1
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Snyder never has, and likely never will, open practice to anyone outside the football team and staff. It’s one of those things you just deal with when covering, or even just following, K-State football.

Except that one magical hour in mid-August.

It’s marketed as Fan Appreciation Day, the one little nod that Snyder gives to the fans to show off the team a bit, talk about his staff, player representatives, and team captains and then allow the fans down onto the field to get autographs from players and even Snyder himself.

But before all that fun starts, the fans get to watch the last hour of practice.

It’s often hard to tell things from that short bit of practice — you can’t usually tell who is ahead in the backup QB battle, for example — but sometimes you do get a few insights. And today’s practice appeared to have answered a few questions.

What we (think we) learned

We’ll start with what’s freshest on the minds of Wildcat fans.

After the sudden announcement yesterday that senior center Reid Najvar was forgoing his senior playing season, there was some quick discussion as to how his spot would be filled on the o-line. And while the most reasonable guess was that sophomore Adam Holthorf would move up, there was still the outside possibility that junior Dalton Risner would move back to the middle. Well based on practice, it appears that Holthorf has moved right up into the starting center role without missing a beat. Holthorf started a center for the purple team during the Spring game last April, and performed well at that time.

Also, it appears as though the starting five has been set as (from LT to RT): Scott Frantz, Abdual Beecham, Holthorf, Breontae Matthews, and Risner. Beecham, who started five games during the middle of Big 12 play last year, appears to have edged out Tyler Mitchell, who started and ended last season at RG before being replaced by Matthews, to replace the hole left by the graduation of Terrale Johnson. Expect that battle to continue into the start of the season.

Sticking with the offense, it was pretty clear the the starting “skill” players were: Jesse Ertz, QB; Alex Barnes, RB; Byron Pringle, Dominique Heath, and Dalton Schoen, WR; and Dayton Valentine, TE. There was a notable absence of Carlos Strickland and Dalvin Warmack from the practice; and while there appears to be at least seven guys in the fold for playing time at wide receiver, only Barnes and Justin Silmon took any first or second team snaps at running back. Also a few other notes: Bernard Goodwater, recruited as a running back, is listed on the roster as a wide receiver and was practicing there; no clear separation from back-up QB’s, though Thompson “looks” the part; Blaise Gammon made a nice one-handed grab on the sideline (yes, K-State fans, tight ends can catch).

While there were few questions on offense, there were far more on defense headed into the fall.

I didn’t ever get a good view of the defensive linemen, as they were usually opposite field of me, but Will Geary is back, and was fully practicing, and that is a huge win.

Moving back a level, it appears as though the three-man starting LB unit is Trent Tanking, Jayd Kirby, and Elijah Sullivan, with Sullivan rotating out in the 4-2-5 set. Sam Sizelove was absent from practice, but may still be #2 ahead of Kirby. Justin Hughes was often an early entrant with the twos, as was Sullivan (in the two-back set). Da’Quan Patton and Chase Johnston among others getting rotation reps with the second string unit.

Projected starting nickleback Cre Moore was absent from practice, but Jonathan Durham filled in there with the starting unit, and even had a really nice adjustment to force a pass break-up while in coverage. The third guy in that rotation appears to be freshman Gervarrious Owens. Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed obviously have locked their spots; AJ Parker and Walter Neil were the next two in at the corner spots.

Back at safety, what was rumored now appears to be confirmed: Denzel Goolsby looks to be the replacement for Dante Barnett at strong safety. Kendall Adams returns as the starting free safety (and nearly had an interception on a come-back play). Sean Newlan and Eli Walker were in second at safety, but not clear which one will be the next guy in if there is an injury.

Nothing really special to report for special teams. Matthew McCrane is the place-kicker and directional kickoff specialist, Nick Walsh is the punter, and Mitch Lochbeiler is the back-up to both and the deep-kick kickoff guy. Basically no change from the end of last season. Isaiah Harris appeared to be the lead punt returner, with Gervarrious Owens the man in front of him in formation (usually the back-up). Goodwater was one of the deep men on kickoffs, but I could not get a clear look at who was on the other side (I was down near the field with tents in the way, sorry guys), but based on the numbers I saw, it was likely Isaiah Stewart or Jay Craft, both are freshman defensive backs.

What’s it all mean

Well, it looks like we got a few questions answered, but as always it was just a preseason practice, and only an hour of it at that, so we can’t make too many deep assumptions. But based on observations today, and observations from the last several Fan Appreciation Day events, there appears to be more clear-cut answers this year than in the last several. The starting units look pretty clear-cut, and unless something pretty drastic happens in the next three weeks, the starters look pretty well set.

This much starting cohesion at this point of the fall is huge. It means the starters are getting all their reps and not needing to split to determine who is actually going to start. It means that the units have even more time to get used to each other, build deeper trust and be more comfortable in their own roles and assignments.

It was only one practice, and hour of one practice, but (purple glasses on) things look to be set-up very well for the Kansas State Wildcats football team.